Around 3.53pm local time on September 8th, Flight 2276, a 16-year old Boeing 777-236ER (registration G-VIIO) fitted with GE90 engines, pushed back from gate E3 at McCarran International Airport and commenced its short taxi to RWY 07L for a departure to London’s Gatwick Airport. The takeoff roll was later aborted with indications of an engine fire, and the passengers were evacuated on the runway. This article details a rather generic response to an engine fire indication that leads to an evacuation with consideration made to Flight 2276.
Pilots can go a lifetime without having to evacuate an aircraft. Such is a testament to the engineering and safety of modern airliners. However, every now and again, a pilot is called upon to use their training to manage an emergency – as was the case with Captain Chris Henkey and the crew of Flight 2276. Captain Henkey had flown with British Airways for over 42 years and was due to retire after another two sectors once he arrived back in London. Ironically, he had a discussion with his wife only days prior stating that he was lucky to live out his career without any serious occurrences. That said, he would have lived the last 42 years in a constant state of readiness after countless simulator assessments and recurrent training programs that would have invariably included an engine fire and evacuation with each visit.
The entire pre departure flow is a systematic and SOP driven procedure that works like a well oiled clock, and it’s one that the flight and cabin crew would have completed hundreds of times prior. During the taxi to the runway, the flight crew would be completing any necessary checklists while otherwise enjoying a sterile cockpit environment that only permits mandated chatter. While it’s hard to keep quiet while taxiing past a giant fake pyramid, the environment is far from conversational. During the takeoff roll, words and actions from the flight crew flow in a robotic manner like every other flight in the same fleet. The flight crew’s rhythmic mouth-music can be though of as symphonic with standard calls being predictable, ordered, and expected.
During the takeoff roll and below 80 knots, carriers will normally abort a departure for most warnings. Between 80 knots and a calculated V1 speed it’s normal to abort for an engine fire, engine failure, predictive windshear, or anything the pilot considers unsafe to carry into the air. Despite what common sense might dictate, a low speed reject can often be more difficult to manage than aborting the departure at a higher speed. When an engine is lost at low speed (creating additional drag due to windmilling blades) there’s a huge differential between donks with virtually no significant airflow over the vertical stabiliser. The condition tends to cause a lateral rotation that isn’t always manageable with nosewheel steering alone. In contrast, the airflow over the tail at a higher speed assists with directional control. In a Boeing 777, a Thrust Asymmetry Compensation (TAC) computer will provide directional control assistance above 70 knots.
Above the V1 speed the crew will normally carry the non-normal into the air with the associated memory items actioned above 400 feet. These reject actions and any other relevant discussions are included in a comprehensive safety brief prior to pushback.
During the takeoff roll of Flight 2276, the first indication of an engine fire was likely the master caution light. Those reject actions that were previously discussed on the ground are driven by a muscle memory that’ll ultimately bring the aircraft to a safe stop – starting with the Captain’s command of “stop” or “reject”. There’s a startle effect consideration factored into the manufacturer’s aborted takeoff performance at this point that’ll consider the precious seconds it takes for a pilot to recognise, interpret, and respond to the indicated caution. While the startle effect can often manifest by way of unwanted or instinctive actions (think of swatting a fly away from your face), when taking off and “expecting the unexpected”, the adrenalin fuelled seconds will normally heighten crew senses and drive necessary response. The non-flying pilot will call out omissions, speeds, if the RTO autobrake has failed, and advise the tower of the reject. The procedure is almost immediately followed by a cabin PA that’ll trigger the flight attendants into an alert mode that morphs them into their rigid safety personas. The PA acts as an instruction for cabin crew to mentally rehearse their own emergency patter and safety actions should they be called upon to exercise their primary safety role.
When the flight crew respond to any non-normal situation, a short discussion will normally ensue before the pilots land at an appropriate course of action. However, an engine fire isn’t something that’s discussed or debated; if the engine fire is indicating, appropriate actions are taken. It’s a challenging experience for passengers at this point since they may be well aware of the problem… and in some cases they’ll have a better visual appreciation of the problem than the flight crew. They’ll have to sit through a gruelling couple of minutes until the pointy end of the aircraft arrives at a decision and communicates their response to the cabin.
While the Boeing 777 has an Electronic Checklist (ECL), we’ve printed older (non-operational) paper versions here for information purposes.
If airborne, memory items are completed before the checklist is called (the actions above the dotted line in the image). On the ground – as is the case in our video – the captain may elect to select the checklist first.
It’s after checklist completion – and since every occurrence or non-normal is different – the flight crew tend to action educated improvisation. If the fire is obvious and can’t be contained, it’s likely that it’ll lead to an evacuation – as was the case with Flight 2276. In our video it was determined that an engine fire continued to burn (despite forgetting to include the fire chief’s last audio comment), and an evacuation was carried out.
Step 4 of the above checklist calls for the flight crew to pull the engine fire switch; it’s this action that’ll have the most immediate effect to mitigate the spread of fire. The switch will command the closure of the fuel and hydraulic flow and it’ll cut the IDG (generator) on the affected engine. The switch is rotated either side of center to discharge the fire extinguishers (30-seconds apart). Given the nature of the fire, the crew of Flight 2276 would have likely ceased the fire checklist at this point and continued to the evacuation checklist after a brief discussion.
Once the captain issues the “evacuate” command to the cabin, crew will immediately make their own assessment of the conditions and commence evacuation of the aircraft. Since the doors are armed, opening them will also inflate the slides.
Depending upon the carrier, flight crew have their own responsibilities once they leave the cockpit.
Every airline tends to have their own variation of patter that’s communicated in unison to passengers during the egress. While the variations with instructions from one airline to another are subtle, the pertinent points when evacuating on the runway tend to remain the same: “high heels off, hurry, come this way, leave everything behind”… or words to that effect. At the door the cabin crew will instruct passengers to jump and sit, then move well away from the slide.
Our video was made with a specific purpose so there are actions that weren’t taken on the flight deck that were intentionally omitted. Communicating the nature of the fire and instructing crew to evacuate in certain areas of the aircraft was once significant omission that was intended for classroom discussion. That said, it’s expected that cabin crew will check their window for smoke, fire, or any other danger, before opening it. Evacuating passengers over a wing that is consumed with smoke or flames isn’t clever.
Engine Fire During Takeoff, Rejected Takeoff Roll and Evacuation - YT
The evacuation of Flight 2276 was a success in that the 159 passengers and 13 crew managed to egress without serious injury. However, the weakest point in the whole evacuation process were the biological hazards in the cabin that tend to make their own rules when exiting, and we’ll address this issue later today.
Shortt URL for this post: